Prefixing mothers

November 19, 2007

in Adoption language, Birth parent

There is no consensus about ethnic titles. Is “African-American” an inclusive term, with the emphasis on “American”? Does “Mexican-American” create a divide just by using the “Mexican” prefix?

There is no consensus about adoption titles, either. Is the woman who gives birth but doesn’t parent a “birth mother”? A biological mother? Just a mother? Or is there some better term?

There is no definitive answer that ruffles no feathers. But let’s explore some commonly used titles.

  • Birth parents: Not accurate for a father — he doesn’t give birth. Too limited for many mothers — they contribute much more than labor and delivery. There’s prenatal care, and a loving, painful decision to place a child. Also, “birthmother” could imply that I’m a “death mother.” Yuk. Still, it is an understood term, not heinous to most firstparents I hear from, and I occasionally use it to be understood.
  • Biological mother: limits my children’s firstparents’ role to that of DNA providers. In fact, Crystal and Michele have much more significance than that to us. They made decisions during and after their pregnancies that show they are much more than egg donors. Just too clinical.
  • Natural parents: could imply I’m an unnatural mom.
  • Real mom: so who changed all those diapers and woke up in the middle of all those nights to sooth — Fake Mom?

I like First parent. It is clear. It honors the people who gave my children life. And it does nothing to diminish my role in their lives — their Mom. And I don’t believe it implies that I am second. Rather, it denotes that I am last. Rob may not have been my first love, but he was my last. Last is good.

No matter what your intentions, never abbreviate BM for birthmother. No one likes to be equated with excrement, no matter how innocent the intentions. Instead, if you are limited on keystrokes: bmom or bdad.

Please note that these terms are accurate only when referring to parents who have relinquished. Prior to relinquishment, a pregnant woman is simply an expectant mother (no matter what your agency tells you). Use of the term birthmother — even when prefixed with the word prospective — to describe a pregnant woman who might choose adoption is considered coercive. It’ s not until she legally surrenders her role as parent that she should have any prefixes attached to her title at all.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

LJ April 6, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Thanks for this post, as we start the adoption process, it’s good to make sure I am listening for all of the things that can put us all more at ease.

Reply

Tracy April 6, 2010 at 11:47 pm

I find these posts SO helpful. It can all be very overwhelming, and with such a sensitive subject, with so much riding on it, you just don’t want to make a mistake. Thank you!

Reply

LJ April 6, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Thanks for this post, as we start the adoption process, it’s good to make sure I am listening for all of the things that can put us all more at ease.

Reply

Tracy April 6, 2010 at 11:47 pm

I find these posts SO helpful. It can all be very overwhelming, and with such a sensitive subject, with so much riding on it, you just don’t want to make a mistake. Thank you!

Reply

Lavender Luz April 6, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Thanks, ladies for taking the time to comment.Kami, I hadn’t realized that donor communities would have their own vocabularies, too.Niobe, good point. It illustrates that even the presence of a prefix shows that one can be considered something less than a full mother.

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Lea Bee April 6, 2010 at 11:47 pm

thanks for the post. language is so important…for such an important topic, the right tools are a must.

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niobe April 6, 2010 at 11:47 pm

What’s interesting to me is that the terms seem defined in some way by the complementary term. A woman who both gives birth to a child and parents that child could certainly be called a birthmom or a biomom. But either term would imply that there’s another mom out there somewhere as well.

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Kami April 6, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Very interesting. I think I have been guilty of BM and I see how insensitive “birthmom” could be for someone who is still pregnant and undecided.In the world of donor eggs, I have seen “biological mother” describe woman who carried the baby and “genetic mother” describe the egg donor.

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Lollipop Goldstein April 6, 2010 at 11:47 pm

These posts are so interesting because the language has changed so much throughout the years. And I like that you pointed out that there isn’t a perfect term that everyone agrees on across the board.

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Lavender Luz April 6, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Thanks, ladies for taking the time to comment.Kami, I hadn’t realized that donor communities would have their own vocabularies, too.Niobe, good point. It illustrates that even the presence of a prefix shows that one can be considered something less than a full mother.

Reply

Lea Bee April 6, 2010 at 11:47 pm

thanks for the post. language is so important…for such an important topic, the right tools are a must.

Reply

niobe April 6, 2010 at 11:47 pm

What’s interesting to me is that the terms seem defined in some way by the complementary term. A woman who both gives birth to a child and parents that child could certainly be called a birthmom or a biomom. But either term would imply that there’s another mom out there somewhere as well.

Reply

Kami April 6, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Very interesting. I think I have been guilty of BM and I see how insensitive “birthmom” could be for someone who is still pregnant and undecided.In the world of donor eggs, I have seen “biological mother” describe woman who carried the baby and “genetic mother” describe the egg donor.

Reply

Lollipop Goldstein April 6, 2010 at 11:47 pm

These posts are so interesting because the language has changed so much throughout the years. And I like that you pointed out that there isn’t a perfect term that everyone agrees on across the board.

Reply

beagle April 6, 2010 at 11:47 pm

I came back to revisit this post because I wanted to direct another blogger this way. I realized I never commented totell you that I thought this was a great post. It’s a tough topic. In general I don’t like “labels” but we do need to choose which ones we use and also be aware with which intent we use them.

Reply

beagle April 6, 2010 at 11:47 pm

I came back to revisit this post because I wanted to direct another blogger this way. I realized I never commented totell you that I thought this was a great post. It’s a tough topic. In general I don’t like “labels” but we do need to choose which ones we use and also be aware with which intent we use them.

Reply

Nicole J. Burton April 7, 2010 at 4:19 am

This is a lovely, thoughtful post. From an adopted person, thank you!

I used “birth mother” in my book, Swimming Up the Sun: A Memoir of Adoption” but that was before I knew there were sensitivities around the subject. Now I usually use “original parents” or “original mother.” It’s like first mother but rolls more easily off my tongue. Cheers.

You can read the first three chapters of my book at NicoleJBurton.com/books
It’s also available on Amazon.com

Reply

Nicole J. Burton April 7, 2010 at 4:19 am

This is a lovely, thoughtful post. From an adopted person, thank you!

I used “birth mother” in my book, Swimming Up the Sun: A Memoir of Adoption” but that was before I knew there were sensitivities around the subject. Now I usually use “original parents” or “original mother.” It’s like first mother but rolls more easily off my tongue. Cheers.

You can read the first three chapters of my book at NicoleJBurton.com/books
It’s also available on Amazon.com

Reply

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